Nothing says Jewish grandmother like matzo dumpling soup! Soft pillowy parcels swimming in home made chicken stock is a profoundly successful combination and one of the Ashkenazi Jewish kitchen’s great inventions.
The dumplings - kneidlach in Yiddish - appear at Passover when matzo is eaten; and at other Jewish festive meals, such as New Year's Eve, this week. There are as many recipes as there are Jewish grandmothers. In fact, almost every Food is Love grandmother has made dumplings for us and given us a slightly different recipe.
Melbourne Holocaust survivor Hania Joskowicz is now in her 90’s. This doesn't stop her making a vat of chicken soup, almost as tall as she is, every Friday. And she doesn't taste the soup, because she’s a vegetarian!
Hania has the widest smile and is full of beans. Her grandchildren come over Friday afternoons and they all cook together. Meat for the few remaining meat eaters. Vegetarian for Grandma Hania and some grandchildren. And vegan for other grandchildren.
Hania was one of four sisters from a village near Cracow in Poland. During World War Two, she was separated from her family and sent alone to a slave labour camp in Czechoslovakia. It was her good fortune not to be sent to the Auschwitz death camp, which was geographically much closer, and much more terrible.
Hania survived in the labour camp for more than 3 years, and after the War she discovered that only one sister was left alive. The rest of her family had been killed. One of the few survivors form her village was a friend who’d been in kindergarten with her. When David Joskowicz heard Hania was alive, he came looking for her. They married in a German refugee camp in 1948 and were together till the day he died.
A friend sponsored them to come to Australia. Her husband worked at Smorgon's meats, and then the two of them opened a milk bar and fruit shop in the city, before settling in to the sandwich bar in Lonsdale street which they ran for many years.
Hania and David had 3 children. Neither spoke about their war time experiences.
To this day, that fabulous smile temporarily disappears when Hania remembers the past and she becomes too sad to talk.
"Better you shouldn't know."
Sydney grandmother Eva Engel also made kneidlach for our cameras, with two of her grandchildren. Eva remembers the rise of Hitler as a child. Her father was politically active against the Nazis. Eva's is an easier story, because her parents managed to leave Europe before the War.
Her father's activism meant it was too dangerous for them to stay after Nazi Germany "unified" with Austria in March 1938. In August, her father obtained a visa for a short business trip to Switzerland. It was their escape route, though they were not allowed to take anything valuable with them, including money.
Eva's uncle came to the airport to see them off, and pressed a small coin into Eva's mother's hand, as a token of good luck. This was spotted, and that coin almost derailed their escape from the Nazis. Eva's father was already on the plans when his wife and daughter were taken away to be strip searched.
Luckily, they had brought no other valuables. In the end, the Nazis let them travel.
They were now penniless refugees in Switzerland, searching for their next stop.
"If you didn't get a visa to another country, you were sent back," says Eva. "Nowhere in Europe would take us. My father applied to lots of countries, and because he was a highly regarded engineer, Australia accepted us. But many of the other refugees who were there with us weren't so lucky and the Swiss did send them back."
Jewish Welfare paid for their passage on a boat to Australia. Eva's father worked in a service station, until once World War Two began, he was offered a job in his field in New Zealand. That's where Eva spent the war.
Today Eva works with Holocaust survivors, and dedicates her life to telling the stories of Christians who saved their Jewish neighbours during World War Two. She also loves cooking with her grandchildren.
DUMPLINGS - the facts
It boils down to one thing really. What kind of matzo dumpling do you like: light and fluffy (floating) or soft but substantial (sinking)? After you've decided on sinkers vs floaters, there are 2 more issues: the ratio of egg to matzo meal, and the kind of fat you use; and then whether you add a 'new-fangled' raising agent. like soda water or baking powder.
We've featured a lot of the recipes of Food is Love grandmother Agi Adler who makes her kneidlach straight down the line. No soda, no baking powder, and also pretty frugal: 1 egg per 1 cup of matza meal. This is unusual since her recipe comes from the American hotel Grosingens, and the latest US recipes use 4 eggs per 100 g of matza meal. (One recipe even uses 5, and whips the egg whites. Way too fancy for me! But have a look, in case you like it. )
Eva Engel uses soda water and melted margarine (or butter) instead of chicken fat, and even less than 1 egg per cup of matzo meal.
So far the Sydney grannies are pretty frugal, and their results are good!
Candice in her test kitchen in Madrid made it with 4 eggs per cup of matzo meal, as per the US recipes, but I couldn't go that far. Also the results with 3 eggs was verging on too eggy for me, so frugal it is! Less is more. I did use the chicken fat which I had skimmed off the soup, and that was a good addition - though not vital. Oil plus soup mix is also just fine.
The dumpling mix contains chicken fat skimmed from the soup.
So here it is: the final version, a mix of all the grandmothers' recipes, which produces a large fluffy dumpling, including variations for those who like them more substantial.
Makes 15 fluffy dumplings, Serves 4-6
- 2 large fresh eggs (can also use 3 eggs)
- ¼ cup fat - either a neutral cooking oil, or fat skimmed off the top of the chicken soup mixed with 1 tablespoon oil, or rendered fat, schmaltz, the apex of the pyramid
- 1/3 cup soda water
- 1 cup coarse matzo meal
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon chicken soup powder
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- ¾ - 1 teaspoon baking powder (omit this during Passover)
Note: For a sturdier dumpling, which offers something to hold onto, use regular water or chicken broth in place of soda water, and omit the baking powder altogether.
- Beat eggs with a fork. Mix in other liquids.
- Mix dry ingredients together and add. Do not overmix. As one American cooking writer says, think of them as muffins! Mix as little as possible.
- Allow to rest in fridge for at least 2 hours.
- Wet your hands, and roll the mix into golf ball size dumplings. If you don’t crowd them in the pot, the ones with baking powder will expand quite a bit.
- All the grandmothers do the following: they put the dumplings in a pot of gently boiling salted water – NOT in the soup. They do this so that the soup won’t be cloudy when they serve it. It’s a visual thing. But the dumplings are more flavourful if you cook them in stock. So perhaps separate out a portion of the soup for cooking the dumplings and eat it “cloudy” the next day when your guests have gone!
- Whatever you boil the dumplings in, water or stock, they should take about 30 - 40 minutes. Test one to make sure they're cooked through. Leave them to rest for 15 minutes and then serve in soup.
- Any left over can be frozen in a ziplock bag and re-heated when you next need them.
All the recipes call for coarse matzo meal, which strangely was impossible to locate this week in Jerusalem. Other than that, I was surprised by how easy – and fun – these were to make. A little time consuming, but not hugely, and well worth the effort.
I made a few different versions, including whole wheat matzo meal, chicken fat v oil, chicken broth vs water or soda water, and using baking powder for the first time. The ones made with regular matzo meal were a lovely yellow, light, fluffy and delicious. Almost too fluffy. I think the impossible-to-locate-in-Jerusalem coarse matzo meal would give a better result!
Food is Love photographer Dave Mane, whom you could easily describe as a matzo ball maven, insists that taste is as vital as consistency. And he's right! So even if you are using chicken fat or schmaltz, add salt, pepper and chicken soup powder. I used an anaemic parve chicken soup powder, whatever that is, and it really made a difference. The ones without it weren't as good!
A word of advice. Don’t bother with the whole wheat matzo meal. It makes a very heavy dumpling, even if you use half whole wheat and half regular. It will need more liquid, both fat and water. I would estimate 1/3 cup fat, ½ cup water – but possibly more. They don’t puff up as much. And there’s no getting around it. They were beige, verging on grey, a downer for a pretty small health benefit. I say go purist on the matzo meal front.
There is no GF this week, since our expert Amanda Hampel says they don’t come out well.
Madrid test kitchen
Although Candice lives in Madrid, she is basically a New Yorker, and that’s where she learned to love matzo dumpling soup.
“Since they weren't part of the home cooking I grew up with, that was my template: the New York deli version. And a lovely template it is.”
As soon as she heard we were making kneidlach this week, she was in!
“My first challenge in Madrid was finding matzo and I feared it was going to be a unicorn hunt. Spanish cuisine has incorporated many of the dishes of the Jews Spain expelled 500 years ago but, sadly, not matzo. Hopefully this will change if Sephardi Jews take advantage of a new law giving them a right of return. One can only hope. In any event, I finally found a box of matzo, imported from France, and I was on my way.”
The next challenge was ingredients and proportions. Candice immediately ruled out schmaltz as being “way too much work” and went with butter instead. (It would have to be margarine or oil if you want to serve the kneidlach in chicken soup in a kosher home.)
She went with the eggiest version: 4 eggs to every cup of matzo, and soda water (seltzer in the US.)
"But I had a nagging doubt and tossed in a pinch of baking powder too, just for good measure. Then, in a moment of madness, I tossed in some grated ginger and finely chopped parsley I'd seen in a Joan Nathan recipe.”
Candice let the mixture rest for almost 3 hours before simmering her dumplings in chicken broth. She served them with a second, richer broth reserved for the soup.
“The result was really delicious, but a bit puzzling," says Candice.
"First of all, they were rather more beige than the matzo balls of my memory. Secondly, although light, they didn't quite float. I hasten to add that they did not sink, either. Just hovered right under the surface of the chicken broth. For the record, I don't think the ginger added anything and won't bother with it."
"The purist approach to a matzo ball is the best, I feel. I do, however, like the idea of a tad of baking powder for lightness and will increase this next time."
Her husband Richard, a runner who doesn't overeat, went back for seconds.
"Together we polished off a rather indecent number of these puppies!"
This is a quick refresher, just in case you need it, and because my friend Ellen’s mother makes simply outstanding chicken soup. Mary Stewart Krosney is a Southern Belle who converted to Judaism more than half a century ago, when she married Ellen’s dad. Once she did, went about finding all the best Jewish recipes. This chicken soup is a tribute to her determination.
Her secret ingredient is – wait for it - turkey! Don’t know why turkey bones so ramp up the flavour, but there’s no doubt they do.
This is the best chicken soup I've ever made.
This recipe also calls for an entire chicken. But if you have 2 marylands, and other bones from a roast chicken and the turkey necks – toss them all in. This is a forgiving, inclusive soup.
Mary Krosney’s chicken soup
- 1 chicken, cut into pieces
- 4 turkey necks
- 3 carrots
- 3 onions
- 3 sticks celery
- 1 celery root and leaves
- Optional: parsley, any other greens or veges you have at home
- water to cover
NOTE: Use a big pot, as this makes a large quantity. The turkey necks will take up most of a small pot just for starters!
- Cover ingredients in your pot with water (filtered is best) and cook over a moderate flame till it boils, then lower the flame and simmer uncovered for an hour or so. Skim off any dirt you see rising to the top. Leave to cool and then strain.
- Put the stock in the fridge overnight. In the morning, skim off the fat. This leaves you a lovely tasty clear broth, as well as providing chicken fat for the matzo dumplings :-)
This posting was a request – you know who you are Michele Martin! - and I have to thank her since it’s great to have this on the New Year table. Sending out one more set of New Year wishes for this Sunday. Hope it’s a wonderful year, and all our dreams come true.
PS And for the Jewish New Year custom of dipping an apple in honey...